The near two-week delay in running the $750,000 Southwest S. (G3) was worth the wait for fans of juvenile champion Essential Quality, who capped a big day for Godolphin with a dominating performance in the 1 1/16-mile Road to the Kentucky Derby prep at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
Deftly handled by Luis Saez, who got the gray off the inside entering the first turn, Essential Quality raced wide but in the clear down the backside. Improving from fourth to third approaching the far turn after second choice Jackie’s Warrior attempted to steal the race by setting modest fractions of :23.52 and :48.11 over the sloppy track, Essential Quality easily took over from that rival with a quarter-mile to go and charged home a convincing winner by 4 1/4 lengths.
This was the second graded stakes win for Godolphin at Oaklawn on Saturday following Mystic Guide’s impressive performance in the Razorback H. (G3). The stable’s Antoinette captured The Very One (G3) at Gulfstream as well.
Trained by Brad Cox, Essential Quality paid $3.80 after completing the course in 1:45.48. The Bob Baffert-trained Spielberg, who broke slow and trailed the field for a time down the backside, rallied for second by 4 1/4 lengths over Jackie’s Warrior. The order of finish was rounded out by Woodhouse, Last Samurai, Santa Cruiser, and Saffa’s Day.
“He definitely looked like he moved forward,” Cox said of his colt off the long break. “He’s a very fit horse who doesn’t seem to have a bottom to him. I think the farther we go the better he’s going to get.”
Earning Eclipse Award honors off back-to-back wins in the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland last fall, Essential Quality earned an additional 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points here, boosting his total to 40. Spielberg earned four points, increasing his total to 17 points, while Jackie’s Warrior earned two points and now has 14. Woodhouse earned one point.
Undefeated through four starts, Essential Quality has earned $1,785,144. Cox said Essential Quality would ship back to his winter base of Fair Grounds in New Orleans, with a decision on where to make his final Kentucky Derby prep likely to be made in mid-March.
Bred in Kentucky, Essential Quality is by Tapit and out of the Grade 3-placed Delightful Quality, an Elusive Quality half-sister to 2005 juvenile filly champion Folklore. The latter is the ancestress of Japanese star Contrail.